Moon Pies are a powerful memory from childhood sleepovers: the crinkle of the plastic, the chocolate-colored shell tacky from hot fingers, the graham cracker crumbs on sleeping bags, the snail trails of marshmallow filling on pillowcases. In my memories these cookies represent the independence implicit in sleepovers—staying up past bedtime, the special currency of truth-or-dare, and the rituals that imitate adulthood as seen from pre-pubescent eyes. The confessions of a 12-year-old are more easily spilled inside the sweetness of marshmallow.
The moon pies baked by the mothers in a small, lakeside vacation town have little resemblance to my memories. These pies, baked in kitchens and wrapped in tinfoil, are moist graham cookies covered in real chocolate melted on stove-tops and filled with marshmallow fluff hidden in pantries. But these sweet treats also carry secrets—those of the bakers.
Labor Day sees the last of the tourists, the town and the lake shore reverting to the locals. Irene, Magda, and Libby watch their 15-year-old daughters sunbathe from the shelter of their thick straw hats designed to keep deeper wrinkles at bay which would “drive our husbands further away from us, men who already shrank away when we reached for them, shrank at the feel of the stubble on what had once been smooth armpits and creamy thighs.” They watch their youth fade as their daughters blossom, pummeled with parts pride, longing, and fear.
In one long moment everything changes. A drowning girl, her skin the blue of a leaking Bic pen, will shape that day in their memories, as well as the year to come.
This is an achingly beautiful book—like marshmallow filling on a cavity, both sweet beyond words and more painful than imaginable. The writing is melancholy, the story surreal—like a dream that leaves only emotions poured into the mind. Foos strikes a balance between the magical morals of the brothers Grimm and the magical realism of Márquez that allows readers to surrender to the blue girl and the secrets she devours within the moon pies the three women bring her each week.
The perceived ascent into womanhood, awkward angles becoming curves, is as daunting as the perceived descent into degenerating cells and decreased skin elasticity. Mothers and daughters chronicle both ends of the spectrum. Each chapter switches perspective, but only between the women. The husbands and sons are characters without voices, only known through the eyes of the women that, for better or worse, love them. Foos strives for six unique voices and mostly succeeds. Even the blurring of voices could be symbolic of the way mothers and daughters are separate but forever bound.
A mother narrates a chapter, followed by her daughter narrating a chapter. The cycle continues twice through the three mother-daughter duos. This patterned storytelling forms a strong foundation for a book grounded in realism but also invested in exploring higher truths. A subconscious hook exists on which to hang our hats when readers get lost—the alternating voices of youth and age, motherhood and daughterhood.
Foos expresses the dance between mothers and their daughters, between humans and the constant passage of time, with an insightful and unsettling modern fairy tale. We all have secrets. A wildchild forced into homemaking by an unexpected pregnancy. A husband who is a shell of himself—afraid of the television and playing imaginary games of basketball. Children that, suddenly, “become strange.” A boy who cusses openly and “pulls at his groin and fails biology,” and a boy who won’t ever really grow up, or at least not beyond help. A girl who is blue, who glows, and can devour those secrets:
“That first night, feeling as if I’d fed the blue girl all my lies, I swam nude in the lake before I went home. Although the ripples washed over me, I couldn’t see them breaking in the darkness, I couldn’t tell where the ripples ended and I began.” Secrets spill easier into marshmallow, regardless of age.